Youth Climate Summit Empowers Students to Make Change
"I can make a change in my community to solve climate change, and not just sit around thinking I can’t do anything to help." —Summit Participant
What do you do if you are a high school student concerned about climate change? At Arcadia, we offer students the opportunity to attend a Youth Climate Summit to grow their knowledge and prepare to take action within their school community.
The 2018 Western MA Youth Climate Summit was held in early November at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary and the Hitchcock Center for the Environment. The event was designed to support youth empowerment through building confidence in climate communication, advocacy, action, facts, and ideas. Jointly organized by Hitchcock’s Education Director Colleen Kelley and Arcadia’s Climate Education Coordinator Brittany Gutermuth, the Summit’s two days of learning sought to empower 50 high school students from 6 local high schools, supported by 10 local college students as well as teachers and workshop leaders.
Event speakers and presentations included:
- Sue Van Hook, a mycologist who discussed the important role of mycelium in carbon storage in the ground
- Shaina Rogstad (UMass Geosciences) and Toni Lyn Morelli (USGS Research Ecologist) on how to talk about climate change
- Witter Swanson, on youth experiences from the first Youth Climate Summits at the Wild Center in New York
- EcoFellows Olivia Horowitz and Jonathan Ruiz from the Center for EcoTechnology
- ...and many more!
Student teams included environmental clubs and environmental science classes as well as students whose teachers knew them to be interested in the climate conversation. Schools from all over Western Massachusetts were represented, including Amherst Regional, Frontier Regional, Hampden Charter School of Science, Hampshire Regional, Northampton, and Holyoke.
"It changed how I will participate in solving the global climate crisis. I feel like I can talk to people who don’t understand climate change in a much better way."
On the first day, concurrent workshops taught students about becoming leaders in climate action and how to connect with different audiences. In the afternoon, there was a panel about bikes and biking presented by Valley Bike, and a tour of Hampshire Farm. Both of these programs demonstrated how changing daily individual habits students could relate to—like transportation and eating—can lower carbon footprints. The day ended with artist Tem Blessed, who provided a passionately creative drive for action as a method of communicating the message.
The second day, a culmination of the entire event, included lots of time for each team to develop of a Climate Action Plan for their school. With guidance from event speakers and experts, students crafted plans that incorporated direct actions as well as proposals for changing patterns in the immediate community. This year’s teams will continue to receive support from Summit organizers as they return to their communities to carry out their Climate Action Plans, which include:
- Install solar panels in parking lot (Amherst Regional High School)
- Host a youth climate summit for elementary school students (Frontier Regional High School)
- Start an environmental club (Hampden Charter School of Science)
- Install a water bottle filler & distribute reusable water bottles (Holyoke High School)
- Host a “Zero Waste” Week (Northampton High School)
"I didn’t really know the best ways to advocate for and participate in climate change prevention, and I feel like I have those skills now." —Summit Participant
If you asked students what part of the Climate Summit was their favorite, the hands-down winner was rapper and energy artist Tem Blessed, whose performance concluded the first day with vibrant energy!
A resident of Hadley and a graduate of UMass, he's shared his work at Bioneers Conferences and on the website 360.org. Tem brought the house down with his creative drive to make climate science and the state of climate change accessible through the artistry of words and music. His performance also visibly ignited the students' passion to break down barriers that prevent people from working together.
Another very popular activity kicked off the second day—an outdoor nature and art project! A new addition to the Summit's schedule, this creative session encouraged students to communicate in a way that spoke to our emotional connections rather than just the factual issues surrounding the climate change problem.
Summit organizers Brittany and Colleen will continue to work with these high school students during the coming year as they work to implement their Climate Action Plans.
We’re excited to see what they accomplish!
Thanks to Jessica Shultz from the Hitchcock Center for working on this article.